In Christchurch on the southern island I start my New Zealand tour. I am looking forward camping again and for a change I even travel in a country where I can actually speak the language.
I start with going right to the heart of the island, the southern alps. On the roads it is pleasantly quite. The biggest danger are the huge number of camper vans (and their size) in which most tourists travel. But of course there are also a lot of cyclists. I meet here about as many cyclists per day, as I have previously per 4 month! After only a few days I reach the highest mountain of New Zealand, Mt Cook. I do a couple of nice hikes and enjoy the great glaciers and mountains.
At the foot of Mt Cook is also the starting point of the cycling trail alps2ocean. But the only way to get to the starting point on the other side of the valley is by helicopter. At first I think this is a bad joke or some planning mistake. But later I realize that this is quite common here. The Kiwis are pretty good at extracting everywhere a few dollar from tourists.
There are quite some cycle trails here and on my route I try to combine those with gravel roads of which there are also quite some. The cycle trails are everything from great single tracks, lonely dirt roads, old railway lines where you cross viaducts and dark tunnels to signposted main roads.
Queenstown is the capital of all commerz-adrenaline-junkies. Bungy-jumping has been invented here and the number of such activities on offer is staggering.
In contrast to all this, I board a 100 year old coal fired steamboat that brings my to the other side of the lake. From here I follow a great gravel road for 2 days across a wild, untouched landscape.
After more than two years on the road a lot of my stuff is well worn and almost daily there is something to repair. But then there are times, when just everything seams to fall apart. Within one week a tire blows up, my new front rack breaks again, the GPS breaks und my bottom bracket needs to be replaced. With most things it is no problem to replace them here in New Zealand. But despite my expectation cycle touring specific stuff is rather difficult to find. In Christchurch (the second biggest town) I cannot find a good front rack. But one day I meet two cyclists from Austria who are about to fly home in a couple of days. The sell me their rack and I finally have something solid again.
For almost 3 weeks the weather is perfect and we have a real heat wave. The land is totally dried out. But when I reach the south of the island that ends rather dramatically. Over night the temperatures drop to single digit values and snow falls as low as 700m. Here at the southern end the weather is anyway most extreme. Especially the winds can be really strong around here. While I ride along the coast near Invercargill I get the full blast of it. Every 10 minutes I ride through another rain shower and the wind coming from the ocean hardly lets me make any progress anymore.
For some time I think about whether I should go to Milford Sound. But when the forecast predicts some nice days I start. The southwestern end of the island is a huge area of Fjords, with hardly any roads to get there. One of the few options to get to the Fjords (or Sound as they are called) is this road. I get rewarded with a ride through a fantastic wild landscape. The valley is flanked by steep rocky slopes and everywhere is dense rainforest. That the amount of rain that falls here is really extreme can also be seen by all the massive waterfalls that come roaring down the steep slopes.
On top of a pass I have to pass through the Homer tunnel. A 1.2km long, hardly illuminated, one lane, wet whole with a 10% climb. A bit of a nightmare for every cyclist. But the ride down to the Fjord is all the more compensating that. Down at the water the view of the Fjord with its steep mountains (some glacier covered) rising from the sea is truly breathtaking.
Actually I am now on the west coast for the first time. But because the last 120km where a dead end and it’s been so nice, I get to ride it right a second time on the way back.
Before changing over to the west coast. I make one last detour to Mt. Aspiring. After a rather dusty gravel road the last 10km are definitely a walking trail and getting through proves to be quite a challenge.
But eventually I reach the hut from where I continue next day on foot to explore the surrounding mountains and glaciers. The whole Matukituki Valley is one great, untouched wilderness area.
Crossing the Haast Pass I finally reach the west coast which I now follow to the north. I can already smell the undeniable odor of the sea for quite some time, but there is nothing to be seen yet. I am riding through a dense rain forest where only rarely I get a glimpse of the coast. But it is a great ride through this forrest, passing many lakes on the way.
At Fox and Franz Josef Glacier the giant glaciers from Mt Cook come all the way down to the rain rain forest. Although these glacier have melted considerably too in recent years and tourists are now flown up to the ice by helicopter.
As there is only one road here on the west coast, traffic is quite heavy and sometimes a bit annoying because it is so narrow. I am glad when I reach Hokitika and can finally leave this road for the Wilderness Trail. A short but great cycle trail. On narrow trails I can ride right through the rain forest, across empty valleys and passes and clear lakes. Truly well made this trail.
Crossing Arthur’s Pass I change back to the east cost. An exiting crossing starting in the rain forest, reaching an alpine pass and dropping down to the dry east coast. All passes in New Zealand are not very high (the highest only 1070m). Some of them seem to want to make that up with some real steep climbs. Same here at Arthur’s Pass where I get to climb up a short but painfully steep gorge to reach the top.
As soon as I have reached the east coast I take the next pass and go right back over the Lewis Pass. While the draught in the east has been going on for month now already I am welcomed back by a heavy rain shower as soon as I am back on the west coast.
The northern part of the west coast is quite spectacular with steep cliffs and beautiful bays. When I reach Karamea at the end of the coastal road, the weather forecast predicts a heavy storm for the coming days. When I wake up next morning it rains already heavily. I bring all my stuff to the nearby house before the whole meadow is flooded. From there I have to watch helplessly as the ever stronger wind finally rips my tent in pieces.
Two days later when the weather is fine again and all the flooding has vanished I can continue with a tent only hold together with lot’s of tape. Fortunately the weather is good until I reach a town where I can get a new ‚home‘.
On the way to the norther most point of the island, the road crosses Takaka Hill. This road easily gets the award for ‚best climb‘ on the south island. For once it is a very even grade passing through a beautifully smelling pine forest. A real pleasure which is good, because (you know the problem) this is again a dead end road.
The beach near Cape Farewell has made the ride up here more then worth it. It is the most beautiful and wild beach that I have seen on the island yet. Giant waves crash onto the impressive rocks. The receding water has left behind some pools in which a good dozen seal puppies swim, while the older ones enjoy that rays of sunlight lying on the rocks. They put on quite a show racing, jumping through the water and from rocks. I could watch them for hours. Way better then any Discovery Channel.
Just like in the south, I meet in the north of the island these Sounds along the coast. The Queen Charlotte Trail follows the Sound of the same name and can be done by mountain bike. By boat I get to the start of the trail which is exactly at the same spot where Cook once first set foot on New Zealand. When I push the bike off the jetty and are about to start I have to swallow hard.
The trail is impossibly steep and rugged. Even with a light mountain bike I would not be able to cycle here. With my fully loaded bike this means that I even have trouble pushing it up the hill. It is only 4km to the camp site where I want to go today, but it takes me 2 hours to get there. In the evening I start to have doubts. Have I just bitten off more then I can chew this time? If the trail continues like this, it is going to be a long 70 km.
Next morning the trail is much better Except for a few steep sections I can ride all the way. It is a challenge but great fun. In countless curves the trail leads me through dense bush, passing many bays. Often the trail follows a ridge and offers great views of the Sounds on both sides.
At just one such point with perfect views I pitch my tent on the second day. It couldn't be any better.
In the north east of the island lies New Zealand's biggest working farm, the Molesworth Station. On a lonely gravel road I can ride right across the farm. Together with the Rainbow Valley from where I approach I can travel 200 km across almost uninhabited, remote land. The landscape is totally unique here with no bush or tree only this golden grass and seemingly endless width - fantastic.
After almost 5000 km on the south island is about time now to move on to the northern island.
The first days are somewhat disappointing. The weather is gray and the landscape boring. Fortunately that changes quickly when I get to the center of the island. The scenery here is dominated by volcanos. All around them, there are hidden valleys and deep gorges.
There are a lot of Mountain Bike routes and I combine them so that for almost 2 weeks I never ride on big roads. Instead I ride on dusty gravel roads and bumpy trails all across these valleys.
Many of those routes are roads were built by the early settlers at the beginning of the last century to develop these remote regions. When the second world war broke out many of these projects were abandoned. And so these routes today still lead to these remote, hidden areas almost inaccessible otherwise.
Like the Kaiwhakauka Track. The trail that is totally overgrown with fern and bush leads me to a remote valley. There is one single farm where I meet the farmers. Their great-great-grandfather emigrated from Switzerland. Now they live here in their little paradise far from any traffic.
Of course I only make slow progress on these trails and they are always good for a surprise. Like the sign on the Mountain2Sea Track telling me that the track is closed due to a collapsed bridge. But because I have already ridden a long tough day only to get here, I decide not to turn around. Fortunately I can ford the river and can so continue. Or the ‚42 Traverse‘, a Mountain Bike classic that has partially turned into a mud bath after the rain during the night. On the Fisher Track, which I ride not in the common easy direction, some Mountain Bikers look quite surprised when they see me pedaling up the hill with my heavy load. On the Timber Trail I ride through an old loop tunnel and don't see the wood for the trees for two days.
Meanwhile it is autumn here and the days are already much shorter. But the transition is much rougher then I had expected. After having enjoyed the hottest summer in 15 years the weather gets much worse within only one week. I rains very often, sometimes for days on end.
I am glad I have passed the Mountain Bike trails already. But even on the road cycling in the rain is just no fun. Especially when soon everything starts to get wet with no chance to dry anything. Fortunately I have just reached an area with lots of geothermal activities. So I often warm up myself in one of the many thermal bath.
The weather continues to be rather wet in the mountains. I ride one last mountain bike trail along a river but then I am heading to the coast where the weather is much better as hoped.
On the Coromandel peninsula there are already lots of great beaches and bays. At Cathedral Cove there is an impressive rock arch.
Actually New Zealand is pretty big for its only 4.5 million residents. Nevertheless a whole third lives in just one city, Auckland. Together with the desire of every Kiwi to own a freestanding house with a garden this makes for a extremely wide spread City. Suburbs for kilometers on end. Of course everyone has to go to the center for work which creates a constant traffic chaos as there is hardly any public transport.
A shame as the town is otherwise blessed with a very unique setting: it lies at two oceans at the same time!
All the mountains are now behind me. North of Auckland there are mainly beaches, lots and lots of beaches. Most spectacular are those along the Bay of Islands. Behind every corner a new bay, a lonely beach. Most tourists have long since left. Often I have the most beautiful places all for myself. And there are plenty of those.
In the very north the island gets thinner and thinner until only a narrow piece of land leads to the northern most point of New Zealand, Cape Reinga. That all the roads up here would be very exposed to wind I knew already only from looking at the map. Indeed I struggle against a very persistent wind to get to the top. Other than that, the ride itself is not very remarkable, but the cape with great views of the open ocean and some beautiful bays was well worth it.
The main reason I actually came up here was not really the cape itself. On the west side of the peninsula is the Ninety Mile Beach. Actually rather 90 kilometers long and along that beach I want to cycle back. On all my travels I have cycled many spectacular routes and this is certainly one of them too. For two days I ride on the beach. Two days with no signs of human existence, two days just sand and water and the surf of the wild ocean.
Of course I was curious of how well you can actually cycle on the sand. During high tide I am getting pushed further up the beach until the sand is too soft and I cannot cycle anymore. But after a long siesta the water has retreated and I can continue on the perfectly smooth surface.
After the ride on the beach the sand is everywhere. I find it in all my equipment for the next week and the bicycle sounds like, well like it should not. For reconciliation I treat it with oil and grease instead of saltwater and sand and soon it continues to roll on without any complains.
On the way back to Auckland I follow the west coast. Here there are some beautiful forest. Like with the animals, the local trees are having a difficult time against all the foreign species brought in by the early settlers. but here there is an great forest with giant Kauri trees, the oldest being an impressive 2000 years old
In Auckland I finish my New Zealand tour.
If anyone is curious for how long I will continue to travel: yes, I will go on. One more continent, but that should be the end then. Which one that is? Well the choice is not to big anymore, is it…
So I spend the last days in town to organize the next leg of this trip.